By Pablo Jaime Sainz
A new San Diego City public library is set to open in 2007 on the Logan Elementary campus and some parents and community members in the Memorial area are citing traffic and safety issues as concerns.
At the same time, those same parents who oppose the construction of the library want the school principal to resign from his position because, they claim, he is against having parent leadership that opposes the library and the parents say he was involved in PTA election fraud.
In the past weeks, a group of about 20 parents and community members held two protests in front of Logan Elementary. They were demanding the resignation of Principal Antonio Villar and new PTA elections to be held because, they said, the polls closed before parents were able to vote.
“Villar doesn’t want parents against the library in leadership positions,” said Katherine Lopez, a community member and one of the organizers of the protests. “Parents are tired and want Mr. Villar to leave and the District to bring another principal that shows more leadership and honest support for parents.”
Lopez said that current Logan Elementary PTA president Constantina Gomez is one of the parents who is against the construction of a library on school grounds. Lopez also said that when Gomez took her position, Gomez made many positive changes in the PTA, such as focusing all financial resources toward students´ needs.
Gomez was running for reelection in the June 8 PTA elections. Lopez and other parents at the protests claim that Villar appointed another candidate, a teacher, and fixed the elections so that Gomez wouldn´t be reelected.
Villar said he had nothing to do with the PTA elections and that the elections were organized by representatives from San Diego County´s PTA District 9.
Lopez, who wanted to be present at the school during the elections, was removed from school grounds by police officers. She said that Villar didn’t want her there.
Villar, on the other hand, said that like anybody else, she has to register with the main office if she wants to be on campus. He said that she refused to register, that’s why he had her escorted.
At the center of the controversy is the construction of an $8.4 million library being developed in a joint agreement between the City of San Diego and San Diego City Schools.
The Logan Heights Branch Library, which will be built on Logan Elementary grounds, is set to begin construction in the Fall of 2006 and be completed by Fall 2007.
It will be approximately 25,000 square feet.
The new facility would replace the current 3,967-square-foot branch library built in 1927.
In December 2002, the City of San Diego was awarded a $5.25 million state grant to complete funding for this $8.4 million project.
Lopez said that at that time parents met with former Councilmember Ralph Inzunza to show their opposition to the project, but he showed no support for them.
“He basically told us, ‘You want a library or don’t you?’” she said.
Lopez said that she and several parents met with current District 8 councilmember Benjamin Hueso and that he also hasn´t shown support for them.
Whitney Benzian, director of communications for Councilmember Hueso, said that Hueso is in favor of the library and that he thinks it is a positive project for the Logan Heights community.
Villar said that even though the project was approved before he became principal at Logan, he is in favor of the library.
“It sounds great,” he said. “Our teachers are excited about this.”
Lopez said that Logan Elementary parents are in favor of a new Logan library, but that it should be built somewhere else, not taking school space.
“Parents do want a library but not on school grounds,” she said. “They even removed some portable classrooms already to make room for the library. That’s not fair. As it is, if you consider size of school, it is overcrowded. It was built for 400 children and it has over 1000 students.”
Regarding concerns about removal of the 11 portable classrooms, the student enrollment at Logan Elementary School has declined 832 in 2005-2006, down from 880 in 2004-2005, according to Erika Wilgenburg, San Diego City Schools communications supervisor.
Also, Wilgenburg said that a brand-new elementary school will open in the Logan Heights area in September 2007 (Laura Rodriguez Elementary School).
“Some of the students from Logan Elementary will attend the new school, and thus, the school district does not have concerns about overcrowding,” she said.
According to City of San Diego information published in the Logan Library project website, “the City of San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District entered into a joint use agreement. As a result, the Library receives a site that is near the current library and centrally located for the community, and the children attending the adjacent schools receive special accommodations, services and materials at the library.”
In addition to taking school grounds, Lopez said that many parents had other concerns about the new library, including traffic and safety issues.
“Putting a public building in the middle of a school puts our children at risk,” she said. “A lot of people are going to use that library”.
Regarding concerns about safety during construction, “the safety of our students is a priority,” Wilgenburg said. “The City of San Diego is actually managing the construction project, but school district staff is working closely with the City and the City’s contractor to ensure that all safety issues are addressed. We have ensured that a ten-foot high safety fence will enclose the construction area during the duration of the project. We have also ensured that construction schedules are coordinated so as to not dis-rupt students and teachers during recess time and testing periods.”
Also, a security guard will be on duty at the library during open hours for the safety of both patrons and staff.
Villar said that after learning about the safety solutions that the City and the District are offering, he agreed that the library was a good project for the Memorial area.
Lopez said that parents are also concerned about traffic issues.
“The library will attract people who are going to be driving, and the street where it is going to be located is very narrow,” she said.
On the City´s project website, this issue is addressed as well: “As part of the environmental analysis and review, a Traffic Impact Report was conducted in March 2002. Based on this analysis, it was determined that the project will have no significant impacts to the intersections and the surrounding area. The new library will enhance and greatly promote pedestrian activity by placing an urban plaza on South 28th Street that will lead to the main entrance of the library. A connection to Memorial Park will be provided via a landscaped walkway.”
Construction for the library is set to begin this fall. Lopez said that the Logan parents will continue to protest.
“They [the City and the District] would never do it anywhere else but they do it here,” she said.
To learn more about the Logan Heights Branch Library, visit http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/about-the-library/loganhts.shtml.